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During recent fieldwork in Nuwakot, our team came across a group of women decked in safety gear doing construction work. They handled high-powered machines with ease and their traditional clothes underneath the safety helmets and jackets helped us appreciate what a unique and powerful sight this was.
The women were making construction material in Dhungentar at a brick manufacturing site to support reconstruction and rehabilitation work. The site is one part of the Resilient Mountain Village (RMV) concept, which takes a holistic approach to development, involving all members of a community in a collective effort to strengthen and sustain rural livelihoods. The integrated RMV approach evolved at the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD).
The brick making machines themselves were an innovation imported from the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok, which compress earthen materials into compact blocks that interlock with the other bricks for additional strength.
When the RMV work began in Dhuganitar, men dominated property ownership and income generating work. Women were almost entirely dependent on men for financial support.
The women we spoke to expressed a consistent desire to increase their earning potential. However, they often lacked the skills necessary to find better paying work. With this idea in mind, we targeted opportunities to provide women with training in skilled labor, such as brick making. The response was terrific: 86% of the women in Dhungentar participated in the training. Now they can earn extra income when their children are at school or during leisure hours.
One of these women, a 22-year old, said the project was helping to build confidence among the women who participated in the training. Initially she had no experience working with machines, but now she says she feels she can learn even more complex work like making plaster and building house foundations.
Women transferring bricks. Photo credit: Ram Kumar Tamang, ICIMOD
Enhancing women’s skills could not come at a more important time, as more and more men and young persons are going abroad for work. In many villages, rehabilitation efforts have been hampered by the lack of available labour needed to rebuild houses and community buildings. Women have stepped into this void, and initiatives dedicated to building their capacity to contribute have helped immensely. And the situation is win-win: women are strengthening rehabilitation work while also improving the earning potential.
Compared to other settlements I had visited – where tarpaulin and tin shelters were still plentiful after the earthquake – families in Dhungentar were building new homes with earthquake-resistant materials. And this was also true for all the Dalit households in the village.
While these developments in women’s skilled labour are encouraging, there is more work to do. In a focus group discussion with a gathering of men, one of them said, “Cows cannot be used for ploughing.” This traditional saying means that men do not want women to earn money through physical labour. Instead, women should work only in the home, caring for domestic needs.
On this International Women’s Day, we should note that while some efforts, like RMVs, are hoping to unleash the potential of women to acquire new skills and create better lives with added income, real change can only be achieved when we all—men and women—share this belief. Only then can we bridge the gap that keeps women from making stronger contributions to their families and society.
A woman engaged in plasterwork during the reconstruction of the Nuwakot Durbar Square. Photo credit: Anju Pandit
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